Warning: Contains mild spoilers
Torchwood: Miracle Day‘s series finale, “The Blood Line,” contains moments sublime, absurd and WTF-worthy. What it lacks, is the sense that this is a closed and complete series. This may be good news or bad news, depending on how you look at it.
I’ll say this: throughout all ten episodes, the performances from John Barrowman and Eve Myles have been taken to the next level. In prior series of TW, Barrowman was often the bearer of the glib and facile quips, while Myles was saddled with far more angst than anybody should be. Gwen Cooper has grown up to be a pragmatic badass, complete with a sense of her own failings. Jack Harkness has grown up as well, and mortality has given him shading and depth.
TBL is the endgame writ large, with explosives. Lots of them. There is also one incredibly spoilery surprise that may represent a game-changing canon discontinuity with Doctor Who, and there are a lot of dangling threads. Since we’ve yet to see whether we’ll get a fifth series, let’s all keep our fingers crossed.
For all that, this is a great episode to watch. The cast, working from a script by Jane Espenson and Russell T. Davies, are given a lot of really fantastic moments that make TBL a joy. Esther Drummond and Rex Matheson stop being annoying and finally make sense in context. Frances Fisher and Lauren Ambrose are delightfully evil, and Bill Pullman gets to make a meal out of ham and cheese. We also get some beautifully underplayed moments from Kai Owen and Tom Price. It all comes down to Gwen and Jack, though. From Jack revealing to Oswald Danes that he’s from the future, and that the future is,”being written right now,” to Gwen’s gut-wrenching decision to shoot Jack, these characters remain the heart of Torchwood.
There’s a lot of palaver about antipodal lines and the frankly disturbing visual of The Blessing, (the center of the world resembles a mashup between Georgia O’Keefe and Edvard Munch, IMO,) but that’s not really what TBL is about. It’s about choices and conscience. The Blessing reflects who you really are back at you. For Gwen, there is, “Enough guilt to last me a lifetime. But that’s okay, I’m a working mother; I don’t need The Blessing to tell me that.” For Jack, “I’ve lived so many lives and now I can see them all. Hey: not so bad.” There are choices about sacrifice, choices about embracing the self, and choices about the needs of the few versus the needs of the many.
There’s a chilling moment when Danes asks Jack who he is, saying, “I know the smile of a man who’s done terrible things,” getting under Jack’s skin by saying, “Your friends. . . sometimes they like you, sometimes they love you, and sometimes, glittering away in those tiny gaps: they fear you.” It provides a much deeper and subtler contrast between Jack’s moral ambiguity and accountability, and the monstrosity that is Oswald Danes as Jack tells him, “You’ve made your life so small.”
For all that Russell T. Davies swore that he didn’t owe Torchwood fans answers about why, answers have been woven throughout the entirety of TW: MD. I came into this series with trepidation, and I’m leaving it wanting more. At the top of its game, the series has had interesting things to say about the manipulation of desperate populations, the way bureaucrats and politicians participate in fomenting a mob mentality, and the corporate puppetmasters pulling the strings. These are things that are familiar to most of us these days. In centering the machinations in the three families, and specifically in Frances Fisher as The Mother Colasanto (a dangling thread if I ever saw one,) Davies has left a web in place that could become a major arc with standalone episodes in future series.
I was pleasantly surprised to find Mekhi Phifer and Alexa Havins taken off the leash, in a manner of speaking: Rex Matheson is suddenly less of a jerk and more of a confident operative, while Esther Drummond is no longer a river of tears but competent and sure in her actions. If these characters had existed as complete and complex from the beginning instead of serving as proxies for Owen Harper and Toshiko Sato, the entire series would have been stronger. Havins proves that she’s capable of carrying no-nonsense material while Phifer’s talent isn’t restricted to being a smartass.
There is heroism and nihilism and betrayal, and there’s a lot of asskicking awesome to be had.
Thinking back over this series which has been both incredibly flawed and yet incredibly vital television, it seems that for as much as Davies wants to embrace the miniseries format, he’s also attempting to set up the future of Torchwood as something that belongs to no country, no government, no power except itself. With this tenth episode, the villains are vanquished (for now) and the status quo has been returned to the human race (mostly) but the questions remain: Who pulls the strings and why? Will we go like sheep to the slaughter or deliver our neighbors to the wolves at the door? Are we worth saving if we won’t save each other?
Perhaps, with a fifth series, we might get a little closer to the answers.
I look forward to it.